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Alice's tone hardened a trifle. "Or at leastlet the Romans do as they please, without comment."
"Exactly," snapped her husband. "I don'tknow just what to make of Kimberly," he went on.
"Charles, or the brother?"
"Robert, Robert. He's the one they all playto here." MacBirney, sitting in a lounging-chair, emphasized the last words, as he could do whenimpatient, and shut his teeth and lips as he didwhen perplexed. "I wonder why he didn't cometo-night?"
Alice had no explanation to offer. "Charles,"she suggested, tying her hair-ribbon, "is very nice."
"Why, yes-you and Charles are chummyalready. I wish we could get better acquaintedwith Robert," he continued, knitting his brows."I thought you were a little short with him lastnight, Alice."
"Short? Oh, Walter! We didn't exchange adozen words."
"That's just the way it struck me."
"But we had no chance to. I am sure I didn'tmean to be short. I sang, didn't I? And moreon his account, from what Dolly had said to me, than anybody else's. He didn't like my singing, but I couldn't help that. He didn't say a single word."
"Why, he did say something!"
"Just some stiff remark when he thanked me."
Alice, rising, left her table. MacBirney laughed.
"Oh, I see. That's what's the matter. Well, you're quite mistaken, my dear." Catching Alicein his arms as she passed, in a way he did when hewished to seem affectionate, MacBirney drew hiswife to him. "He did like it. He remarked tome just as he said good-night, that you had a finevoice."
"That does not sound like him-possibly hewas ironical."
"And when I thanked him," continuedMacBirney, "he took the trouble to repeat: 'Thatsong was beautifully sung.' Those were his exactwords."
In spite of painful experiences it rarelyoccurred to Alice that her husband might bedeceiving her, nor did she learn till long afterwardthat he had lied to her that night. With herfeelings in some degree appeased she only made anincredulous little exclamation: "He didn't askme to sing again," she added quietly.
MacBirney shrugged his shoulders. "He is peculiar."
"I try, Walter," she went on, lifting her eyes tohis with an effort, "to be as pleasant as I can toall of these people, for your sake."
"I know it, Alice." He kissed her. "I knowit. Let us see now what we can do to cultivateRobert Kimberly. He is the third rail in thiscombination, and he is the only one on the boardof directors who voted finally against taking us in."
"Is that true?"
"So Doane told Lambert, in confidence, andLambert told me."
"Oh, Lambert! That detestable fellow. Iwouldn't believe anything he said anyway."
MacBirney bared his teeth pleasantly. "Pshaw!You hate him because he makes fun of yourChurch."
"No. I despise him, because he is a Catholicand ridicules his own."
Her husband knew controversy was not the wayto get a favor. "I guess you're right about that,Allie.Anyway, try being pleasant to Kimberly.The way you know how to be, Allie-the way youcaught me, eh?" He drew her to him with breezyenthusiasm. Alice showed some distress.
"Don't say such things, please."
"That was only a joke."
"I hate such jokes."
"Very well, I mean, just be natural," persistedMacBirney amiably, "you are fascinating enoughany old way."
Alice manifested little spirit. "Does it makeso much difference to you, Walter, whether wepay attention to him?"
MacBirney raised his eyebrows with a laughingstart. "What an innocent you are," he cried ina subdued tone. And his ways of speech, if everattractive, were now too familiar. "Difference!"he exclaimed cheerily. "When they buy he willname the figure."
"But I thought they had decided to buy."
"The executive committee has authorized thepurchase. But he, as president, has been giventhe power to fix the price. Don't you see? Wecan afford to smile a little, eh?"
"It would kill me to smile if I had to do it formoney."
"Oh, you are a baby in arms, Allie," exclaimedher husband impatiently, "just like your father!You'd starve to death if it weren't for me."
MacBirney was still laughing at the idea whenhe left his wife's room, and entering his own, closed the door.
Alice, in her room, lay in the darkness for along time with open eyes.
The test of Alice's willingness to smile camewithin a brief fortnight, when with the DeCastros, she was the guest of Imogene Kimberlyat The Cliffs, Imogene's home.
"This is all most informal," said Imogene, asshe went downstairs arm-in-arm with Alice; "asyou see, only one-half the house is open."
"The open half is so lovely," returned Alice,"that I'm glad to take the other half on faith."
"It was my only chance-this week, and asDolly says, I 'jumped at it'! I am sorry yourhusband has disappointed us."
"He was called to town quite unexpectedly."
"But Providence has provided a substitute.Robert Kimberly is coming." Alice almost caughther breath. "He is another of those men,"continued Imogene, "whom you never can get whenyou want them. Fortunately he telephoned amoment ago saying he must see Charles. I answeredthat the only possible way to see him was to comeover now, for he is going fishing and leaves atmidnight. The guides wired this morning thatthe ice is out. And when the ice goes out,"Imogene raised her hands, "neither fire norearthquake can stop Charles. Here is Robertnow. Oh, and he has Doctor Hamilton withhim. All the better. If we can get both we shallhave no lack of men."
Robert Kimberly and Doctor Hamilton werecoming down the hall. "How delightful!" criedImogene, advancing, "and I am so glad you'vecome, doctor."
Kimberly paused. He saw Alice lingering behindher hostess and the De Castros with FritzieVenable coming downstairs.
"You have a dinner on," he said to Imogene.
"Only a small one."
"But you didn't tell me-"
"Just to give you a chance to show yourindifference to surprises, Robert."
She introduced Doctor Hamilton to Alice."These two are always together," she explainedto Alice, lifting her fan toward the doctor and herbrother-in-law. "But any hostess is fortunate tocapture them like this, just the right moment."
Hamilton, greeting Alice, turned to Imogene: "What is this about your husband's going toLabrador to-morrow?"
"He is going to-night. The salmon are doingsomething or other."
"Deserted Gasp?, has he?"
"Temporarily," said Imogene, pausing to givean order to a butler. Robert waited a momentfor her attention. "I brought the doctor," heexplained, "because I couldn't leave him to dinealone. And now-"
"And now," echoed Imogene, "you see howbeautifully it turns out. The Nelsons declined,Mr. MacBirney disappoints me, Charles goesfishing, and can't get home to-night in time to dine.But there are still seven of us-what could bebetter? Mrs. De Castro will claim the doctor.Arthur won't desert me, and, Robert, you may givean arm to Fritzie and one to Mrs. MacBirney."
There was now no escape from a smile, andAlice resolved to be loyal to her hostess. Theparty moved into the drawing-room.
Fritzie Venable tried to engage Kimberly inanswering her questions about a saddle-horse thatone of his grooms had recommended. Kimberlyprofessed to know nothing about it. When itbecame apparent that he really did know nothingof the horse, Fritzie insisted on explaining.
Her spirited talk, whether concerning her owntroubles or those of other people, was notuninteresting. Soon she talked more especially toAlice. Kimberly listened not inattentively butsomewhat perfunctorily, and the manner, noticeableat their second meeting, again impressed Alice.
Whether it was a constraint or an unpleasingreserve was not clear; and it might have been theabstraction of a busied man, one of that typefamiliar in American life who are inherentlyinteresting, but whose business affairs never whollyrelease their thought.
Whatever the cause, Fritzie was sufficientlyinterested in her own stories to ignore it and in adegree to overcome the effect of it. She was sureof her ground because she knew her distinguishedconnection had a considerate spot in his heart forher. She finally attacked him directly, and atfirst he did not go to the trouble of a defence.When she at length accused him, rather sharply,of letting business swallow him up, Kimberly, with Alice listening, showed a trace of impatience.
"The old sugar business!" Fritzie exclaimedreproachfully, "it is taking the spiritualitycompletely out of the Kimberly family."
Robert looked at her in genuine surprise andburst into a laugh. "What's that?" he demanded, bending incredulously forward.
Fritzie tossed her head. "I don't care!"
"Spirituality?" echoed Kimberly, with a quietmalice. His laugh annoyed Fritzie, but she stuckto her guns: "Spirits, then; or gayety, or life!"she cried. "I don't care what you call it.Anything besides everlastingly piling up money. Oh, these almighty dollars!"
"You tire of them so quickly, is it, Fritzie? Oris it that they don't feel on familiar terms enoughto stay long with you?" he asked, while Alicewas smiling at the encounter.
Fritzie summoned her dignity and pointed everyword with a nod. "I simply don't want to seeall of my friends-ossify! Should you?" shedemanded, turning to Alice for approval.
"Certainly not," responded Alice.
"Bone black is very useful in our business,"observed Kimberly.
Fritzie's eyes snapped. "Then buy it! Don'tattempt to supply the demand out of your ownbones!"
It would have been churlish to refuse her herlaugh. Kimberly and Alice for the first timelaughed together and found it pleasant.
Fritzie, following up her advantage, askedDoctor Hamilton whether he had heard DoraMorgan's latest joke. "She had a dispute,"continued Fritzie, "with George Doane last nightabout Unitarians and Universalists-"
"Heavens, have those two got to talkingreligion?" demanded Kimberly, wearily.
"George happened to say to Cready Hamiltonthat Unitarians and Universalists believed justabout the same doctrine. When Dora insisted itwas not so, George told her she couldn't name adifference. 'Why, nonsense, George,' said Dora,'Unitarians deny the divinity of Christ, butUniversalists don't believe in a damned thing.' Andthe funny part of it was, George got furious ather," concluded Fritzie with merriment.
"I suppose you, too, fish," ventured Alice toKimberly as the party started for the dining-room.
"My fishing is something of a bluff," heconfessed. "That is, I fish, but I don't get anything.My brother really does get the fish," he said ashe seated her. "He campaigns for them-onehas to nowadays, even for fish. I can't scrape upinterest enough in it for that. I whip one poolafter another and drag myself wearily overportages and chase about in boats, and my guidesfable wisely but I get next to nothing."
Alice laughed. Even though he assumedincompetence it seemed assumed. And in sayingthat he got no fish one felt that he did get them.
Arthur was talking of Uncle John's nurse-whomthe circle had nicknamed "Lazarus." Hereferred to the sacrifices made sometimes by men.
"It won't do to say," De Castro maintained,"that these men are mere clods, that they haveno nerves, no sensitiveness. The first one youmeet may be such a one; the next, educated orof gentle blood."
"'Lazarus,'" he continued, "is by no means acommon man. He is a gentleman, the product ofcenturies of culture-this is evident from fiveminutes' talk with him. Yet he has abandonedeverything-family, surroundings, luxuries-fora work that none of us would dream of undertaking."
"And what about women, my dear?"demanded Dolly. "I don't say, take a class ofwomen-take any woman. A woman's life isnothing but sacrifice. The trouble is that womenbear their burdens uncomplainingly. That iswhere all women make a mistake. My life hasbeen a whole series of sacrifices, and I proposepeople shall know it."
"No matter, Dolly," suggested Imogene, "yourwrongs shall be righted in the next world."
"I should just like the chance to tell my storyup there," continued Dolly, fervently.
Kimberly turned to Alice: "All that Dollyfears," said he, in an aside, "is that heaven willprove a disappointment. But to change thesubject from heaven abruptly-you are from theWest, Mrs. MacBirney."
"Do you find the change so abrupt? and mustI confess again to the West?"
"Not if you feel it incriminates you."
"But I don't," protested Alice with spirit.
"Has your home always been there?"
"Yes, in St. Louis; and it is a very dear oldplace. Some of my early married life was spentmuch farther West."
"How much farther?"
"So much that I can hardly make anybodycomprehend it-Colorado."
"They ask me such wild questions about buffalosand Indians. I have found one woman sincecoming here who has been as far West as Chicago, once."
"In what part of Colorado were you?"
"South of Denver."
"You had beautiful surroundings."
"Oh, do you know that country?"
"Not nearly as well as I should like to. It isbeautiful."
Alice laughed repentantly as she answered: "More beautiful to me now, I'm afraid, than itwas then."
"Any town is quiet for a city girl, of course.Was it a small town?"
"Quite small. And odd in many ways."
"I see; where the people have 'best clothes'-"
"Don't make fun."
"And wear them on Sunday. And there isusually one three-story building in the town-Iwas marooned over Sunday once in a littleWestern town, with an uncle. I saw a sign on a bigbuilding: 'Odd Fellows' Hall.' Who are theOdd Fellows, uncle?' I asked. He was a crustyold fellow: 'Optimists, my son, optimists,' hegrowled, 'They build three-story buildings intwo-story towns.' What was your town, by the way?"
"Piedmont?" Kimberly paused a moment."I ought to know something of that town."
Alice looked surprised. "You?"
"The uncle I spoke of built a railroad throughthere to the Gulf. Isn't there a town belowPiedmont named Kimberly?"
"To be sure there is. How stupid! I neverthought it was named after your uncle."
"No, that uncle was a Morgan,", interposedImogene, listening, "the town was named afteryour next neighbor."
"How interesting! And how could you makesuch fun of me-having me tell you of a countryyou knew all about! And a whole town namedafter you!"
"That is a modest distinction," remarkedKimberly. "As a boy I was out there with anengineering party and hunted a little. My uncle gaveme the town as a Christmas present."
"A town for a Christmas present!"
"I suspected after I began paying taxes on mypresent that my uncle had got tired of it. Theyused to sit up nights out there to figure out newtaxes. In the matter of devising taxes it is themost industrious, progressive, tireless communityI have ever known. And their pleas were soingenious; they made you feel that if you opposedthem you were an enemy to mankind."
"Then they beguiled Robert every once in awhile," interposed Fritzie, "into a town hall orpublic library or a park or electric lighting plant.Once they asked him for a drinking fountain." Fritzielaughed immoderately at the recollection."He put in the fountain and afterward learnedthere was no water within fifteen miles; theythen urged him to put in a water-works system toget water to it."
"I suggested a brewery to supply the fountain,"said Arthur, looking over, "and that he mightwork out even by selling the surplus beer. Therewere difficulties, of course; if he supplied thefountain with beer, nobody would buy it in bottles.Then it was proposed to sell the surplus beer to theneighboring towns. But with the fountainplaying in Kimberly, these would pretty certainly bedepopulated. Per contra, it was figured that thismight operate to raise the price of his Kimberlylots. But while we were working the thing outfor him, what do you think happened?"
"I haven't an idea," laughed Alice.
"The town voted for prohibition."
"Fancy," murmured Imogene, "and named Kimberly!"
"And what became of the fountain?"
"Oh, it is running; he put in the water-works."
"Generous!" echoed Hamilton. "Don't bedeceived, Mrs. MacBirney. You should see whathe charges them for water. I should think itwould be on his conscience, if he has one. He isJupiter with the frogs. Whatever they ask, hegives them. But when they get it-how they doget it!"
"Don't believe Doctor Hamilton, Mrs. MacBirney,"said Robert Kimberly. "I stand betterwith my Western friends than I do with thesecynical Easterners. And if my town will onlydrink up the maintenance charges, I am satisfied."
"The percentage of lime in the water he suppliesis something fierce," persisted the doctor."It is enough to kill off the population every tenyears. I suggested a hospital."
"But didn't Mr. MacBirney tell me they havea sugar factory there?" asked Alice.
"They have," said De Castro. "One of Robert'schemists was out there once trying to analyzethe taxes. Incidentally, he brought back someof the soil, thinking there might be something init to account for the tax mania. And behold, hefound it to be fine for sugar beets! Irrigationditches and a factory were put in. You shouldsee how swell they are out there now."
"Robert has had all kinds of resolutions fromthe town," said Fritzie.
Kimberly turned to Alice to supplement theremark. "Quite true, I have had all kinds-theyare strong on resolutions. But lately these havebeen less sulphurous."
"Well, isn't it odd? My father's ranch onceextended nearly all the way from Piedmont tothe very town you are speaking of!" exclaimedAlice.
Kimberly looked at her with interest. "Wasthat really yours-the big ranch north of Kimberly?"
"I spent almost every summer there until I wasfifteen."
"That must have been until very lately."
Alice returned his look with the utmostsimplicity. "No, indeed, it is ten years ago."
Kimberly threw back his head and it fellforward a little on his chest. "How curious," hesaid reflectively; "I knew the ranch very well."
When they were saying good-night, Imogenewhispered to Alice: "I congratulate you."
Alice, flushed with the pleasure of the evening, stood in her wraps. She raised her brows inpleased surprise. "Pray what for?"
"Your success. The evening, you know, wasin your honor; and you were decidedly the featureof it."
"I really didn't suspect it."
"And you made a perfect success with yourunexpected neighbor."
"But I didn't do anything at all!"
"It isn't every woman that succeeds withouttrying. We have been working for a long timeto pull Robert out of the dumps." Imogenelaughed softly. "I noticed to-night while youwere talking to him that he tossed back his headonce or twice. When he does that, he is wakingup! Here is your car, Dolly," she added, as theDe Castros came into the vestibule.
"Arthur is going to take Doctor Hamiltonand Fritzie in our car, Imogene," explained Dolly."Robert has asked Mrs. MacBirney and me todrive home around the south shore with him."
Charles Kimberly was at The Towersthe morning after the return from his fishingtrip, to confer with Uncle John and his brotherupon the negotiations for the MacBirney properties.In the consideration of any question each ofthe three Kimberlys began with a view-point quitedistinct from those of the others.
John Kimberly, even in old age and strickenphysically to an appalling degree, swerved not ahair's-breadth from his constant philosophy oflife. He believed first and last in force, and thatfeeble remnant of vitality which disease, or whatDolly would have termed, "God's vengeance," hadleft him, was set on the use of force.
To the extent that fraud is an element of force,he employed fraud; but it was only because fraudis a part of force, and whoever sets store by theone will not always shrink from the other. Anydisposition of a question that lacked somethingof this complexion seemed to Uncle John a dangerous one.
Charles had so long seen bludgeoning succeedthat it had become an accepted part of hisbusiness philosophy. But in the day he now faced, new forces had arisen. Public sentiment hadbecome a factor in industrial problems; John wasblind to its dangerous power; Charles was quitealive to it.
New views of the problem of competition hadbeen advanced, and in advocating them, one of theKimberlys, Robert, was known to be a leader.This school sought to draw the sting of competitiveloss through understandings, co?peration, andpeace, instead of suspicion, random effort, and war.
Charles saw this tendency with satisfaction;Uncle John saw it sceptically. But Charles, influenced by the mastery of his uncle, becameunsettled in his conclusions and stood liable to veer inhis judgment to one side or the other of thequestion, as he might be swayed by apprehensionsconcerning the new conditions or rested in confidencein the policies of the old.
Between these two Kimberly make-ups, theone great in attack, the other in compromise, stoodRobert. "Say what you please," Nelson oftenrepeated to McCrea, "John may be all right, but his day is past. Charlie forgets every daymore than the opposition know, all told. But Icall Robert the devil of the family. How doeshe know when to be bold? Can you tell? Howdoes he know when to be prudent? I know men,if I do anything, McCrea-but I never canmeasure that fellow."
Whatever Robert liked at least enlisted all of hisactivities and his temperament turned these intosteam cylinders. John Kimberly influencedRobert in no way at all and after some years ofprofanity and rage perceived that he never should.This discovery was so astounding that after acertain great family crisis he silently and secretlyhanded the sceptre of family infallibility over tohis nephew.
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